Hey there friends, patrons, and myth heads of the land, it’s Lucifer means Lightbringer, and today is a big day. We’re going to resurrect the Weirwood Compendium, which we haven’t added to since late 2018! If you’re watching this live, I hope that you’ve ether watched the Weirwoods: Magic and Lore stream from a couple days ago or listened to the original Weirwood Compendium podcasts, as things will make a lot more sense that way.
The majority of the series so far has essentially revolved around the connection between Azor Ahai and the weirwoods. More specifically, we’ve been looking at the symbolism which seems to be showing us Azor Ahai breaking into the weirwoodnet through his magical sacrifice of Nissa Nissa, who seems to be some sort of elf woman with a magical connection to the weirwoods, probably a human – child of the forest hybrid. The implication, from the first, is that weirwood magic was involved in the cause of the Long Night – Azor Ahai was trying to harness that weirwood magic when he broke the moon, and Nissa Nissa, whose death coincides with the moon cracking, was a weirwood woman, chosen for that very reason. I’ve talked about how nicely this overlays with the Hammer of the Waters legend, one version of which has the blood sacrifice of children of the forest on the Isle of Faces as the thing that causes the Hammer of the Waters to fall – but all the evidence points to the Hammer event being a mythicized memory of a moon meteor impact, so we are left with the idea that ritual sacrifice of children of the forest called down moon meteors… somehow.
It’s a little like the underpants gnomes, who know that phase 1 is collecting underpants and that phase 3 is collecting profits, but have no idea what comes between. In our case, we know that Azor Ahai kills Nissa Nissa in an act of blood magic, and somehow, the moon gets struck with a comet, cracks off some meteors, and causes the Long Night. What we do’t understand is what killing Nissa Nissa or invading the weirwoodnet has to do with comets crashing into moons. Today, we’re going to try to shed light on that by talking about the primary function of the weirwood trees, which is astral projection – the ability of the spirit to leave the body for a period of time and then return to it.
We’ve touched on this before, but today we are going to spread our wings and fly. I mean, not literally, this isn’t some sort of hypnosis tape or something, you’re totally safe driving motor vehicles while listening. The other thing this episode will about is horses – yes, more horses! Horses were the topic of the last Weirwood Compendium episode as you may recall – we talked about all the amazing greenseer symbolism of Dany’s silver “sea-horse” which gallops around the green Dothraki Sea, the idea of ships as winged horses that ride on water, and the idea of the stars as fiery steads of the dead Dothraki warriors. The thing is, the idea of using “riding horses” as a metaphor for astral travel is really all about Odin, Yggdrasil, and Sleipnir, and in that last episode I actually went to great lengths to show all the ways Martin is using riding horses as a metaphor for greenseeing without mentioning any of that Odin stuff just so we could save that for today, and so I could show you the internal ASOIAF horse symbolism before revealing the Norse mythology origin for the basic concept. That way you had the chance to see that Martin is definitely, definitely using the silver and grey horse to talk about greenseeing and flying and weirwood stuff without even dipping your toe in Norse mythology parallels, which kind of hog the spotlight once they are introduced. That being done, we can now mount our astral projection horse and fly amongst the stars – but again, in a safe, non-Aleister Crowley kind of way.
Before we go into horses and astral travel, let’s briefly look at the first clues we got that the weirwood and greenseers were the ones to pull down the moon. It was at the Nightfort, for example, where Bran saw this:
Pale moonlight slanted down through the hole in the dome, painting the branches of the weirwood as they strained up toward the roof. It looked as if the tree was trying to catch the moon and drag it down into the well. Old gods, Bran prayed, if you hear me, don’t send a dream tonight. Or if you do, make it a good dream. The gods made no answer.
The weirwood is attacking the moon, trying to pull it for the very sky – right as Bran is praying to the Old Gods careful Bran, praying to the Old Gods is how you mess with the moon… oh. And all this at the Nightfort, home of Night’s King. Earlier in the day, the same weirwood was “reaching for the sun,” and I’ll go ahead and say that it was with bad intent. Bran is on his way to see Bloodraven here, and wouldn’t you know it, the weirwood tree at his ancestral home of Raventree Hall has up-jumped ideas about reaching into the heavens too:
Inside the castle walls, however, a bit of the forest still remained. House Blackwood kept the old gods, and worshiped as the First Men had in the days before the Andals came to Westeros. Some of the trees in their godswood were said to be as old as Raventree’s square towers, especially the heart tree, a weirwood of colossal size whose upper branches could be seen from leagues away, like bony fingers scratching at the sky.
Scratching the sky, reaching for the sun, pulling down the moon – these weirwoods really seem to think they reach all the way to the heavens, but then Yggdrasil spans all nine realms, so this makes a certain amount of sense.
Another place we saw trees attacking the moon was when Asha Greyjoy took Deepwood Motte in the Wolfswood:
Tall soldier pines and gnarled old oaks closed in around them. Deepwood was aptly named. The trees were huge and dark, somehow threatening. Their limbs wove through one another and creaked with every breath of wind, and their higher branches scratched at the face of the moon. The sooner we are shut of here, the better I will like it, Asha thought. The trees hate us all, deep in their wooden hearts.
So these aren’t weirwoods – although there are weirwoods in the Wolfswood – but they are symbolizes as weirwoods by having “wooden hearts” and by being described as sentient. They’re dark and threatening, and trying to scratch at the face of the moon, or we might say threatening to make everything dark by pulling down the moon and blotting out the sun. And those same Wolfswood trees do have it in for the sun as well, and this line is form the same chapter:
The sun was sinking behind the tall pines of the wolfswood as Asha climbed the wooden steps to the bedchamber that had once been Galbart Glover’s.
While this quote might seem innocuous on its own, I see these trees swallowing the sun and remember that they are also the same trees trying to scratch up the face of the moon. To start a Long Night, you need to swallow both the sun and moon with darkness, and of course many of you Norse mythology fans will know that it is the wolves Skol and Hati who swallow the sun and moon at the beginning of Ragnarok – and the name of this forest of hostile forest of trees swallowing the sun and trying to scratch the face of the moon is… the Wolfswood. Martin uses the same Skol and Hati ideas at the Nightfort, where Bran the wolf watched the weirwood tree reach for both sun and moon. It seems the ASOIAF version of these wolves eating the sun and moon is the weirwoods being used to cause the Long Night… again, somehow. Somehow, there’s a way to reach through the weirwoods to the stars, it seems like.
The Nightfort weirwood reaching for the moon is actually mentioned a second time in Bran’s chapter after Sam comes out of the well and tells them about Coldhands, and the quote is full of ominous foreboding about what should happen if the moon is blotted from the sky:
“The Wall. The Wall is more than just ice and stone, he said. There are spells woven into it . . . old ones, and strong. He cannot pass beyond the Wall.”
It grew very quiet in the castle kitchen then. Bran could hear the soft crackle of the flames, the wind stirring the leaves in the night, the creak of the skinny weirwood reaching for the moon. Beyond the gates the monsters live, and the giants and the ghouls, he remembered Old Nan saying, but they cannot pass so long as the Wall stands strong.
The flow of the writing here is great:
- there are spells in the Wall to stop the monsters and dead things
- look, a weirwood reaching for the moon
- we are totally safe from monsters as long as the Wall is standing
When the Wall falls and the monsters and dead things invade, that will be when the new Long Night falls – and making a Long Nights seems to involve reaching into the heavens with weirwood magic.
Last quote along these lines comes from Sam’s scene where he and Gilly are rescued by Coldhands from a pack of wights, who have backed them up against a weirwood tree like sacrificial victims. Then this happens:
He heard the dark red leaves of the weirwood rustling, whispering to one another in a tongue he did not know. The starlight itself seemed to stir, and all around them the trees groaned and creaked. Sam Tarly turned the color of curdled milk, and his eyes went wide as plates. Ravens! They were in the weirwood, hundreds of them, thousands, perched on the bone-white branches, peering between the leaves. He saw their beaks open as they screamed, saw them spread their black wings. Shrieking, flapping, they descended on the wights in angry clouds. They swarmed round Chett’s face and pecked at his blue eyes, they covered the Sisterman like flies, they plucked gobbets from inside Hake’s shattered head. There were so many that when Sam looked up, he could not see the moon.
So first the weirwoods rustle, and the starlight stirs. Then we see clouds of ravens blot out the moon – and since we know that ravens are the tools of greenseers, it seems like the trees have reached into the stars and blotted out the moon with dark clouds in this scene. The black ravens also work as meteor symbols, since the meteor symbols are always black, the ravens descend from the sky and attack in a swarm, and then blot out the sky with the spreading black wings, just like Drogon is wont to do with his black wings. Thus the greenseers are implied as calling down the swarm of black meteors, just as they are implied as attacking the moon and sun in all these other scenes – and just as the greenseers called down the Hammer of the Waters.
Recalling that the sacrifice of either humans or children of the forest was required to drop the Hammer, take note of the child sacrifice theme in both the Bran Nightfort scene, where Bran is being given to the Old Gods and Gilly babe saved from the cold gods, and the scene with Gilly and Sam rescued by Coldhands from the wights, who were coming for Gilly’s baby. In the Wayward Bride chapter where Asha sees the Wolfswood attacking the moon, Asha is the sacrifice, as she ends the chapter getting knocked out cold while backed up against a tree, just like Gilly and Sam were. The title of the chapter – Wayward Bride – seems a wordplay reference to the idea of “weirwood bride,” who is of course Nissa Nissa. Oh yes, and one other thing – the man striking her the final blow is dressed up like a tree. So yeah – weirwood trees seem to have a way to inflict harm on the moon, given the blood sacrifice of the right people.
Flying. It’s presented to us as the expected culmination of Bran’s arc – his coma dream is all about learning to fly, which is equated with harnessing his budding greenseer powers and opening his third eye. When Bran finally meets “the wizard” and asks if he is going to heal is legs so he can walk again, Bloodraven answers “no, but you will fly.” Bran won’t be able to walk and ride like a knight, but as a greenseer, he will fly through the cosmos. Bran seems to have caught a glimpse of this power during his coma dream, where he was first falling and then flying high above the earth itself, and we will take a closer look at that dream later in this episode.
Now it’s actually a misconception that greenseers can only see through the eyes of the weirwoods, as Lord Bloodraven tells us, and this is a key point:
“Nor will your sight be limited to your godswood. The singers carved eyes into their heart trees to awaken them, and those are the first eyes a new greenseer learns to use… but in time you will see well beyond the trees themselves.”
What Bloodraven is talking about here is astral projection: the ability to cast your spirit out of your body and travel elsewhere. Skinchanging itself is a kind of astral travel, limited to the perceptions of the person and the animal familiar, but it seems that a greenseer can do something much more powerful, having the ability to cast his awareness across time and space, and this could certainly be thought of as flying. It does seem to be a part of what Bloodraven is talking about when he promises Bran he will fly. This is kind of an under-appreciated detail – the greenseers can actually see anything, anywhere, anytime. Not just the things that happen in front of heart trees, though those seem to be important.
As we know, Odin can do something like this by riding his gallows tree-horse known as Yggdrasil through the cosmos. The most common translation of Yggdrasil is “Odin’s horse,” because Ygg is a name for Odin and drasil means horse, and you’ll remember that the gallows tree was known as the horse of the hanged, and Odin was hanged upon Yggdrasil to gain the power of the runes, thus making it his tree and his horse. However there’s also a hint about spirit-walking in the etymology of Yggdrasil as well. Drasil, in addition to meaning “horse,” can also mean “walk” or “to pioneer.” Accordingly, Yggdrasil can also be translated as “Odinwalker,” as in spirit walking, the term often used for shamanic astral projection. The mythical world tree concept is usually seen as a kind of Jacob’s ladder – a stairway to heaven if you will, very like the fiery ladder in Qarth – and riding this tree horse gives one the run of the cosmos. Yggdrasil is like the skeleton of the universe which all nine realms of Norse cosmology connect with, so it’s essentially a vehicle which enables spirit walking, just like the weirwood trees.
But Odin has another horse, one more strictly used for astral projection, and this is where shit gets a little weird. That other horse is the eight-legged grey steed called Sleipnir, the “best of all horses,” and instead of a tree that is called a horse, Sleipnir is actually depicted as a horse, but he too is “not really a horse.” To put it simply, Sleipnir is a powerful vehicle for astral projection, and here I will quote from “Norse Mythology for Smart People,” nose-mythology.org:
The eight-legged horse as a means of transportation used by shamans in their ecstatic travels throughout the cosmos is a motif that can be found in a staggering number of indigenous traditions from all over the world. Sleipnir is “the shamanic horse par excellence,” just as Odin is the shamanic god par excellence.
Odin rides Sleipnir to move between the nine worlds of the Norse cosmos, which are loosely divided between the three levels of Yggdrasil as I mentioned, even allowing him to ride into the heavens or the pit of hell and back out again. It’s an astral-projection horse, I don’t know what else to call it. I know this sounds strange, but here’s how it makes sense. The drums used in shamanic rituals are a central tool that the shaman uses to alter his consciousness and pry open his third eye. This hypnotizing beat is likened to the thunder of horses’ hooves, and thus we get the idea of a thunderous horse which conveys the rider through time and space – the astral projection horse that is not a horse. A horse is a horse, a horse of course, unless of course, the name of that horse is the famous Mr. Sleipnir. Jokes aside, I recommend Mircea Eliade’s authoritative (though controversial) work titled “Shamanism” for further reading about this.
The eight legs of Sleipnir are thought to represent both the unusual gate of Icelandic horses (something called Flying Pace,’ which is a ‘2-beat lateral gait used for racing’) which make them looks as though they have eight legs. There’s another explanation, too, one which piques our interest. According to some (and there is dispute about this), this is a reference to the eight legs of the four pallbearers that carry a coffin, with a coffin being Odin’s true means of astral projection because he dies in order to gain magic power when he hangs on Yggdrasil. Odin is the Lord of the Gallows and the Lord of the Dead, something like Hades, so it makes sense to see the coffin as his vehicle of transformation. However, the Vikings didn’t use coffins, so this idea is highly disputed… however as I mentioned, the shamanic horse idea is very old and is spread throughout Europe, in places where coffins are used, so this could be an older association.
Whether this is what was intended by the original authors of Norse myth is almost beside the point in terms of looking for things that Martin may have drawn inspiration from; as a student of Norse myth, Martin would be familiar with the legend, and it sure seems like he is using it. The weirwoods are sacred trees which are very like coffins for greenseers and also vehicles for astral projection, so you can see how they tie in nicely to several layers of Odin horse mythology.
We are about to break down three scenes with pounding drums and weirwood symbolism that demonstrate the concept of the shamanic horse very well, but we saw one already at the Battle of the Blackwater. It’s especially tasty because it brings in the symbol of the winged sea horse. I’ll read part of it again for you:
A hundred blades dipped down into the water as the oarmaster’s drum began to boom. The sound was like the beating of a great slow heart, and the oars moved at every stroke, a hundred men pulling as one.
Wooden wings had sprouted from the Wraith and Lady Marya as well.
We mentioned this quote last time to point out the wooden sea dragons and seahorse ships sprouting wooden wings in time with the great wooden heartbeat. Seahorse ships and sea dragon ships are both well-established as weirwood symbols, and when they sprout wooden wings shortly before burning with green fire, we can sure that the subject matter is greenseeing, i.e. flying through the weirwoods. The fire of the green gods. The wooden heartbeat that makes all the oars pull as one seems a good representation of the hive mind behind the heart trees – and it comes from a great booming drum. This a representation of the wooden heartbeat of the weirwoods, which is also the hoofbeat of the shamanic horse.
That these drumbeats are also hoofbeats is spelled out by the seahorse symbolism; Pride of Driftmark and Seahorse are two of the ships in the fleet, and we know that all of Dany’s silver seahorse symbolism bounces of Velaryon symbolism. Velaryon’s ship is also painted silver, an approximate match for Sleipnir’s grey (recall Dany’s horse has both silver and grey). The wooden seahorse ships sprouting wooden wings in this scene are a direct call-out to Dany speaking to Drogo of “wooden horses with a hundred legs, that fly across the sea on wings full of wind,” so of course these boats can have have hoofbeats. The point I really want to hammer home today is that George is specifically associating all these greenseer metaphors with flying by having the ships sprout wooden wings. Winged ships, winged horses, winged wooden horses as a name for ships… it’s all talking about greenseeing as flying, and about the weirwood being a wooden vessel, horse, or ship that the greenseer uses to fly… via astral projection. With drumming at the heart of it.
One of the very best scenes where Martin lays shamanic drumming symbolism over use of the weirwood tree comes from A Theon chapter of ADWD. This happens as he wanders into the godswood at Winterfell at the hour of the wolf:
And in the heart of the wood the weirwood waited with its knowing red eyes. Theon stopped by the edge of the pool and bowed his head before its carved red face. Even here he could hear the drumming, boom DOOM boom DOOM boom DOOM boom DOOM. Like distant thunder, the sound seemed to come from everywhere at once. The night was windless, the snow drifting straight down out of a cold black sky, yet the leaves of the heart tree were rustling his name. “Theon,” they seemed to whisper, “Theon.”
The old gods, he thought. They know me. They know my name.
Theon pleads with the weirwood tree, and then it says
A leaf drifted down from above, brushed his brow, and landed in the pool. It floated on the water, red, five-fingered, like a bloody hand. “… Bran,” the tree murmured.
They know. The gods know. They saw what I did. And for one strange moment it seemed as if it were Bran’s face carved into the pale trunk of the weirwood, staring down at him with eyes red and wise and sad.
I love how George uses the bloody red hand symbolism of the weirwood leaves to point out Theon as being caught “red-handed” and guilty. It’s very funny, but more important is the apparent fact that Bran is using the weirwood to speak to Theon here. Bran is, at this very moment, mounting the astral projection horse of the weirwoods to communicate with and see Theon. We hear thunder, and it is literally the thunder of drums booming outside Winterfell, but it seems to come from everywhere at once, which sort of dislocates from physical space and makes it omnipresent. In another line from this chapter it says “the drumming seemed to be coming from the wolfswood beyond the Hunter’s Gate,” which implies the drumming as coming from the wood itself.
To put it simply, the thunderous drumming leads directly into Bran’s speaking through the rustling weirwood leaves, a major clue to associate the thunder drums with using the weirwood. There’s also a nice tie to the Grey King myth of the thunderbolt setting the tree ablaze, as basically all the elements of the myth are present: the burning tree is represented by the weirwood, there’s thunder coming from the wood and the air itself, and Bran is accessing the fire of the gods to reach Theon.
The person beating the drums and blowing horns in the woods is none other than Mors Crowfood Umber and his crew of “green boys!” Mors’s green boys are mentioned three times, just to make sure we notice, and of course green boys make us think of the children of the forest. The children play a facilitator role for the greenseer as the drummers do for a shaman entering a trance; they both do things to aid the magician’s entrance into the astral plane, be that serving up weirwood paste and strange advice or playing the drums for hours on end. Here we have green boys playing drums and blowing horns, and far away in a cave, little green ‘children’ are helping Bran use the weirwood trees to fly, so this all makes a lot of sense.
As for Mors himself, well, we have to mention him. He is introduced to us in ACOK with the Odin makeover, and more horn blowing:
The blast of horns woke him. Bran pushed himself onto his side, grateful for the reprieve. He heard horses and boisterous shouting. More guests have come, and half-drunk by the noise of them. Grasping his bars he pulled himself from the bed and over to the window seat. On their banner was a giant in shattered chains that told him that these were Umber men, down from the northlands beyond the Last River.
The next day two of them came together to audience; the Greatjon’s uncles, blustery men in the winter of their days with beards as white as the bearskin cloaks they wore. A crow had once taken Mors for dead and pecked out his eye, so he wore a chunk of dragonglass in its stead. As Old Nan told the tale, he’d grabbed the crow in his fist and bitten its head off, so they named him Crowfood.
That’s right, the man blowing horns outside Winterfell in ADWD and beating drums to make thunder seem to come from the black air of the godswood as Bran accesses the weirwoodnet is a one-eyed man associated with dragonglass and waking giants in the earth (the Umber sigil). The crows pecked out his eye, which calls out to the tale of the bad little boy who climbed to high and was struck by lightning, with the crows eating his eyes out afterward. That story is meant as a companion to Bran’s own climb and fall and essentially combines the lightning striking the tower or tree motifs with the Odin-esque idea of losing an eye to open your third eye. This gives Mors what you might call redundant layers of Odin symbolism which nicely parallels that of Bran and Bloodraven. Indeed, he’s almost like an avatar of Bloodraven with his dragonglass eye. Think about that – a dragonglass eye implies the concept of seeing through a glass candle, as a Valyrian sorcerer would, and combined with all of Mors’s greenseer symbolism, it really gives you the same “dragons and greenseeing” combination that is Bloodraven.
Think about it like this: we have interpreted people with one blue eye to be Night’s King figures: Aemond One Eye, Euron Crows Eye, and Waymar Royce. Bloodraven, meanwhile, works against the Others and has the blood of the dragon, and he has a fiery red eye. If we could describe Bloodraven’s archetype – call it the Three-Eyed Crow, I suppose – we can say that the Three Eyed Crow is aligned with the Night’s Watch and stands directly against the Night’s King and the Others. To the extent we have been speaking of a frozen half of the green see inhabited by the Others and a “hot underworld” portion of the weirwoodnet inhabited by the greenseers, the Three Eyed Crow is like the King of the living half of the weirwoodnet, as opposed to the Night’s King or Great Other figure, if such a being actually exists. Accordingly, “A Burning Brandon’s” symbolism is all fiery, as we have seen, and he’s going to be taking the place of Bloodraven. Bran means both raven and burning brand, so I’ve joked that he will be Burnraven to Bran’s Bloodraven, so that they can keep all the monogrammed bath towels the same down in the cave.
Beric is the same type of figure, combining a ton of greenseer symbolism that mirrors Bloodraven with all the Azor Ahai / resurrected by fire magic stuff. These figures always need to be either very old or resurrected, as you can see. Heck even Ghost the direwolf fits, since he’s a walking ghost with fiery eyes who looks like a weirwood… but again I think Ghost is a walking picture of what Jon will be when he comes back as the wolf-man with white hair and red eyes, fingers crossed.
These two figures – the Greenseer King and the Night’s King – are like the two opposite versions of what Azor Ahai can end up like. Some Azor Ahai figures end up a Night’s King after resurrection, and some end up like a Beric or Bloodraven or Mors. Mors may be a good hint about Jon, too, if Jon comes back to life with snow white hair as I predict. Crowfood may have a dragonglass eye, but Jon’s eyes are “a grey so dark they seemed almost black,” which matches not dragonglass, but Valyrian steel: “most Valyrian steel was a grey so dark it looked almost black,” as we read elsewhere. Valyrian steel is symbolically very similar to dragonglass, so perhaps this is good foreshadowing for Jon that he won’t end up as the new Night’s King. I’d like to see him with snow white hair like Mors Umber here though, or like Elric of Melnibone.
All of which is to say, Mors Crowfood of the dragonglass eye is clearly aligned with Bran and Bloodraven and our other fiery Three-Eyed Crow figures. So now you can see the whole picture – Mors, a Bloodraven / Beric type, leads green boys who symbolize children of the forest, and then are credited with waking sleepers with horns and beating the drums which aid Bran to mount his weirwood tree stallion.
A couple of last notes on the Umbers which pertain to Odin that I have to mention: this bit from ACOK where Bran is woken by a horn blast also introduces the Umbers as coming down from ‘beyond the Last River,’ a good euphemism for coming back from death. Odin is a psychopomp figure who defeats death himself. And speaking of horns, Mors Crowfood is notoriously drunk (“Mors Crowfood is a drunken brute” according to Lady Hornwood) and enters Winterfell half drunk. Odin is often depicted drinking from a horn while riding Sleipnir; he’s drinking the mead of poetry which is of course another way to gain magical knowledge.
Those “boom-DOOM” drums turn out to be a good thing to key in on if we are looking for shamanic drumming. We find them in two other places, the first of which is the Red Wedding. Yikes! That is Catelyn’s weirwood stigmata scene, where she dies and symbolically merges with and becomes the weirwood tree, acquiring bloody tears, bloody red hands, and mouth full of blood, and even a “red smile” throat cutting, mimicking both the bloody carved smile of the weirwoods and the silence of the weirwoods. The shamanic boom DOOM drums are woven all through the Red Wedding, occurring no less than four separate times. We won’t quote it all, but here’s the first occurrence:
Then the tabletop that the Smalljon had flung over Robb shifted, and her son struggled to his knees. He had an arrow in his side, a second in his leg, a third through his chest. Lord Walder raised a hand, and the music stopped, all but one drum. Catelyn heard the crash of distant battle, and closer the wild howling of a wolf. Grey Wind, she remembered too late. “Heh,” Lord Walder cackled at Robb, “the King in the North arises. Seems we killed some of your men, Your Grace. Oh, but I’ll make you an apology, that will mend them all again, heh.”
Catelyn grabbed a handful of Jinglebell Frey’s long grey hair and dragged him out of his hiding place. “Lord Walder!” she shouted. “LORD WALDER!” The drum beat slow and sonorous, doom boom doom. “Enough,” said Catelyn. “Enough, I say. You have repaid betrayal with betrayal, let it end.” When she pressed her dagger to Jinglebell’s throat, the memory of Bran’s sickroom came back to her, with the feel of steel at her own throat. The drum went boom doom boom doom boom doom.
Catleyn is the weirwood goddess figure, and her son Robb is like a dying last hero figure, sprouting quarrels like a tree sprouting limbs. The give-away line is Walder offering to apologize and mend Robb’s dead men, just as the green zombie theory calls for the last hero’s dozen dead companions to be ritually killed and resurrected. The booming drums add to that feel here – people are being sacrificed, Catleyn is becoming the weirwood tree, and the drums boom away. Bran’s near-sacrifice at the hand of the catspaw assassin is recalled, which happened while Bran was flying around in his coma dream.
Last hero Robb’s resurrection is represented by the macabre act of mounting Grey Wind’s head on Robb’s body, I would say. Dark as it is, it’s an image of the undead wolf-man, which is exactly what I think resurrected Jon will be like after his spirit hypothetically merges with that of Ghost, his wolf. The Freys, as “Lords of the Crossing,” have obvious psychopomp symbolism, and they make wolfman Robb, so there you go.
The other three occurrences of the repeated “boom doom” at the Red Wedding come interspersed with the dialogue as Cat offers to trade Aegon Jinglebell’s life for Robb’s, Walder says no, Roose kills Robb with a sword through the heart, and Cat gives Jinglebell a red smile of his own. The last one comes right as Cat gives and receives stigmata, beginning with her cutting the fool’s throat:
Blood ran hot over her fingers. His little bells were ringing, ringing, ringing, and the drum went boom doom boom.
Finally someone took the knife away from her. The tears burned like vinegar as they ran down her cheeks. Ten fierce ravens were raking her face with sharp talons and tearing off strips of flesh, leaving deep furrows that ran red with blood. She could taste it on her lips.
These are ritualistic sacrifices – Cat is becoming the weirwood goddess, getting all of her stigmata; a Stark King of Winter / last hero figure, Robb, gets a Nissa Nissa-like sword to the heart, and a fool named Aegon gets sliced across the throat like a weirwood sacrifice. The booming drums during this scene simply add to the dark blood ritual vibe, certainly, but the idea of shamanic drumming fits with the meaning of all this death symbolism, which has to do with these Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa figures entering the weirwoodnet. Robb and Aegon Jinglebell are presented as parallel figures at the beginning of the scene, with Catelyn regarding the fool’s crown Aegon Jinglebell wears as a mockery of Robb’s crown. Martin is inviting us to consider Robb’s foolishness in thinking he could cheat “The Lord of the Crossing,” i.e. the Lord of Death, and he’s giving us Robb and Aegon dying simultaneously. What’s funny is that you put Robb and Jinglebell Aegon’s names together to get “Aegon Stark,” which might end up being Jon Snow’s name by the time all is said and done. That makes sense, because Jon is the actual green zombie that we will get in the story for sure.
Although there are no horses inside the Red Wedding, George works them in via Arya’s perspective from outside the wedding:
It was only then that she heard the riders pouring out the castle gate in a river of steel and fire, the thunder of their destriers crossing the drawbridge almost lost beneath the drumming from the castles.
That’s a nice merging of the thunderous hoofbeats and the drumming, and the fact that the drumming from the castles is almost loud enough to cover up horses’ hoofbeats outside really drives home the point about how loud they were. These horses are “pouring out of the castle in a river of steel and fire,” and fiery horses make you think of the Dothraki and their beliefs that the stars above are a celestial khalasar of fiery horses, and a river of fiery horses and steel pouring out of a place where Nissa Nissa is being sacrificed makes you think of the exploding moon – the waves of night and blood which was a storm of swords and a shower of bleeding stars. Needless to say, “The Twins” is a two moons clue in my book, but we will have to do a total Frey symbolism blowout another time.
When you think about it, there are some serious Hammer of the Waters vibes going on here. Thousands of captive men are slaughtered, and Catelyn the weirwood goddess has her face carved and gets the entire stigmata. This is when the moon should be broken and the hammer dropped, and indeed we get the river of fiery horses and steel pouring out and the giant burning tents, covered in oil, to simulate the burning skin of the moon. We also see the last hero killed, but the suggestion of mending the dead men is made and Robb is symbolically resurrected as the wolf-man – and all the while, the drums boom and the horses’s hooves pound.
The last boom DOOMing comes… in Jon’s Azor Ahai dream! Yes, that’s right, and this is the opening of this ADWD Jon chapter:
That night he dreamt of wildlings howling from the woods, advancing to the moan of warhorns and the roll of drums. Boom DOOM boom DOOM boom DOOM came the sound, a thousand hearts with a single beat. Some had spears and some had bows and some had axes. Others rode on chariots made of bones, drawn by teams of dogs as big as ponies. Giants lumbered amongst them, forty feet tall, with mauls the size of oak trees.
“Stand fast,” Jon Snow called. “Throw them back.” He stood atop the Wall, alone. “Flame,” he cried, “feed them flame,” but there was no one to pay heed.
As we know, these wildling attackers will eventually transform, in the manner of dreams, into the army of the undead and invading ice spiders, scuttling up the ice. Jon will meet them with armor made of black ice and a blade that burns red in his fist, even though he defends the lands of the living alone. This is Jon as Azor Ahai and the last hero – and amidst it all, we find the drums rolling like “a thousand hearts with a single beat.”
That may end up being a clue that this is no ordinary dream Jon is having, but either what you might call a green dream or one straight up implanted or shared with him by Bloodraven. The dream ends with a mysterious “gnarled hand” seizing Jon by the shoulder and waking him up, which many speculate is the hand of Bloodraven, since gnarled is a word often used to describe trees and roots and Bloodraven kind of makes sense as the one to be reaching Jon in this dream.
If we think about the fact that it is the Other-like wildlings playing the booming drums in this scene, it could imply that the Others can attack via the weirwoodnet, via astral travel. The HBO show already depicted Night’s King as being able to confront Bran on the astral plane, and I suspect there is some related truth in the books waiting to be discovered.
Or it may be that we are not meant to think about who is playing the drums in Jon’s dream, since the dream doesn’t actually say who is playing them, but renders them as a disembodied booming like Theon’s scene in the Winterfell godswood. In this case the message may that the last hero must be aided in his battle by the power of the weirwoods – the greenseers and children of the forest, that is. That jibes with the story of the original last hero seeking and receiving help from the children of the forest. It could be that we are supposed to see Jon as a last hero who has to journey to the astral plane to do battle against the true enemy, though I would think that would be Bran’s job. I think it is more likely that Jon will be the physical avatar of the weirwoods, while Bran is their champion on the astral plane, with Jon needing the support of Bran and the weirwoodnet to win, and possibly to be resurrected in the first place.
One of the most tightly packed examples of this line of symbolism comes to us in the form of our friend Ser Duncan the Tall, who has a certain kind of Odin symbolism. As a hedge knight, he’s someone who lives under bushes, which are like small trees, just as a greenseer lives under a tree. He also refers to the elm tree under which he makes his camp at the beginning of the tournament as his pavilion, enhancing the symbolism. At the end of the Novella, Dunk has a conversation with Maekar Targaryen under the elm tree about talking to the trees: Dunk says he asks the tree why he lived, Maekar says “what answer does your tree give you?” and then speaks the High Septon saying that no man can understand the gods, but that maybe the High Septon should try sleeping under a tree – that way he’d better understand the gods, right? This is all talking about greenseers living and dreaming under weirwood trees.
In the Sword Sword, Dunk carries a shield with “a hanged man swinging grim and gray beneath a gallows tree,” and in the Mystery Knight, Dunk enters the tourney as “The Gallows Knight.” So, he lives under a tree, and he rides the gallows tree. His horse, if you recall, is named Thunder – a thundering shamanic horse for the hanged man on the gallows tree. That’s terrific – pretty clear references to Sleipnir alongside the gallows tree. This demonstrates that George is well familiar with the idea of a the gallows tree being a thunder horse, and as we’ll see, he’s riding it for all he’s got.
Dunk eventually paints over the gallows knight sigil with a new one: a falling star and elm tree on a field of sunset, giving us a terrific portrait of the thunderbolt meteor which set fire to the tree. It’s kind of like the moment before the falling star hits the tree, and appropriately, it’s happening as the sun is about to disappear (on a field of sunset).
In the Hedge Knight, the story takes place at the Tourney of Ashford meadow, and Dunk is the ash tree in the meadow, so to speak. It starts with a dream Daeron the Drunkard Targaryen had about Dunk’s deeds at Ashford:
My dreams are not like yours, Ser Duncan. Mine are true. They frighten me. You frighten me. I dreamed of you and a dead dragon, you see. A great beast, huge, with wings so large they could cover this meadow. It had fallen on top of you, but you were alive and the dragon was dead.”
The dead dragon is Baelor Targaryen, who tragically dies from a blow he took during the tourney, but in terms of mythical astronomy, that dead dragon is of course a black moon meteor, and Dunk, as the Odin figure, is the tree set ablaze by the thunderbolt meteor. This is reinforced when Dunk is squaring off lance-to-lance against Aerion Brightflame Targaryen at the trial of the seven held here to decide Dunk’s fate, where Aerion’s shield and Morningstar will play the role of the falling dragon and Dunk will be described in wooden, tree-person language.
Dunk is riding Thunder and repeating to himself,
I am Thunder and Thunder is me, we are one beast, we are joined, we are one.
He’s wedding the thunder tree, in other words, becoming the tree, and a moment later, it’s:
My lance is part of my arm. It’s my finger, a wooden finger. All I need do is touch him with my long wooden finger.
Dunk symbolizes a greenseer hooked up to the tree, mounted on the thunder horse, so wanting to reach out and touch the dragon with a wooden finger is very, very like the scene at the Nightfort where the twisted weirwood reaches out with bone white branches to drag the moon down into the well. Dragons come from the moon, when the greenseer reaches out to touch it, something he does with the astral projection tree horse.
Dunk reaches out with his wooden finger and does indeed touch the three headed dragon on Aerion’s shield, which as a circular shape containing three dragons, is a great symbol of the moon which gives birth to dragons. Dunk takes a wound as he does so to symbolize the death transformation of Azor Ahai the naughty greenseer, and it’s no ordinary wound – he gets impaled by Aerion’s lance. That’s right, it’s a similar lance wound to the one Beric suffers, except it pierces Dunk a little closer to his side than his heart and doesn’t kill him. He’s a hanged man, and now he is pierced while riding the thunder horse. The one eye wound is coming too, fear not. George doesn’t hold back with these things, because he doesn’t want us to be mired in doubt and confusion. This is about Odin, and he wants us to know it.
This is also about Jesus, I suppose I should mention – Jesus was of course hung on the cross, which is a gallows tree, and was also pierced to it. Jesus’s body, still hanging on the cross, was stabbed in the side by a centurion’s spear, and Dunk’s wound here seems to suggest that as well. Jesus’s hanging on the cross is of course a death and resurrection story, with Jesus rising stronger from the grave. I mean, don’t you remember that verse in Matthew Chapter 9 where it talks about Jesus seeing the runes? I kid, but it is a very similar image, Jesus on the cross and Odin on Yggdrasil. These and other similarities between norse myth and Christianity helped to facilitate the acceptance of Christianity by the Vikings. The preachers of the new religion were talking about a guy being hung on a cross who transcended death, and the Vikings were all like “oh yeah, I totally get that. Makes perfect sense! We’re supposed to drink his blood? Of course, how else to become like gods?” Or they might have just said, “so you guys call Odin what now? Jay-zeus?”
Returning to the impaled Ser Duncan, he pulls the lance out of his side and blood flows and it says “the world swam and he almost fell.” That’s a nice reference to global floods brought on by the moon meteor impacts. He tosses his star and elm shield to the ground, giving us the idea of planting a tree in the ground alongside a star falling to the earth, Dunk’s sigil come to life. He looks around for Aerion, having lost sight of him, and it says “the sound of drumming hooves behind him made Dunk turn his head sharply.” Aerion is personifying the dragon meteors themselves, so his coming can also include the shamanic horse drumming as well, and I have to say, if you had any doubt – the thunder of the horses hooves is indeed drumming, George is all about it. Also, Sleipnir is a grey horse, so Aerion’s drumming horse is even the right color.
Aerion knocks Dunk off his thunder horse properly this time, and Dunk’s longsword goes spinning from his grasp, giving us a flying sword symbol. There’s a bruising impact that jars Dunk’s bones and leaves him unable to breathe, reinforcing the strangulation symbolism, and pain stabs through him to give us another impalement idea. He also can’t see, because of the mud in his visor, giving us a hint of Odin’s eye being torn out, to be followed up on shortly. Dunk wipes the mud from his eyeslit, and..
Through his fingers, he glimpsed a dragon flying, and a spiked morningstar whirling on the end of a chain.
Through his wooden fingers – his tree fingers – he can glimpse the flying dragon and a morningstar, or maybe a flying morningstar dragon. That’s a clue about using the trees to see into space, I think. It’s also where I got the idea for the logo of the Weirwood Compendium videos: it’s staring upwards through a canopy of tree branches to a huge fireball falling to earth. 🙂 The action continues:
Then his head seemed to burst to pieces.
When his eyes opened he was on the ground again, sprawled on his back. The mud had all been knocked from his helm, but now one eye was closed by blood. Above was nothing but dark grey sky.
The Morningstar strikes Dunk and his head burst to pieces – this is a big clue that Dunk is also symbolizing the moon as well as the tree set on fire with the moon meteor. That’s what all Dunk’s crashing to earth is about, as well as his head bursting. The weirwood doors seem consistently moon-associated, so I think it’s safe to draw a general link between weirwoods and the moon, and thus it makes sense to see some people symbolize the moon and the weirwood struck by the moon meteor.
So Dunk’s exploding head suggests the moon, but it’s also the tree being struck by a morningstar dragon, a thunderbolt. As a tree-man riding the thunder horse who is knocked to earth by a flying dragon, we can see Dunk as the naughty boy who climbs too high and is struck down by lightning, the role that Bran plays. Sure enough, one of Dunk’s eyes is closed by blood – he’s had the Odin makeover. He’s pulled down the moon on top of his head and paid the price of possessing the fire of the gods. The closed eye represents the moon eye that torn out in the original Lightbringer forging, so these are good old ‘waves of moon blood’ flowing from the wounded moon eye.
And above, nothing but dark grey sky.
The sun is hidden. Waves of night too! A moment later…
The dragon appeared over him. Three heads it had, and wings bright as flame, red and yellow and orange. It was laughing. “Are you dead yet, hedge knight?” it asked. “Cry for quarter and admit your guilt, and perhaps I’ll only claim a hand and a foot. Oh, and those teeth, but what are a few teeth? A man like you can live years on pease porridge.” The dragon laughed again. “No? Eat this, then.” The spiked ball whirled round and round the sky, and fell toward his head as fast as a shooting star.
There’s our final confirmation that the flying dragon morningstar is indeed a falling star. I told you the Dunk and Egg symbolism is some of the best! Anyway, we see the implication of the naughtiness of the naughty greenseers as Dunk is told to declare his guilt. Aerion will only claim and hand and a foot, with the hand being an obvious call-out to the idea of the exploding moon as a fiery hand, as realized in the form of the weirwood leaves that look like bloody or burning hands, as well as hand wounds for many of our Azor Ahai reborn figures (Jaime’s amputated hand, Jon’s burned hand, Davos’s shortened fingers, and so on). The foot wound idea may be a nod to Bran’s crippled legs, but I don’t have a lockdown on foot symbolism yet so I am not sure. If Dunk had his teeth pulled as Aerion suggests, he would have a bloody, yet toothless mouth – just like a weirwood tree. He already has a bloody eye, something like the bloody, weeping eyes of the weirwoods, so what we are seeing is the “making you into a weirwood tree” part of the Odin makeover.
Finally, Aerion tells Dunk that a man like him could live for years on porridge, and I probably don’t have to tell you that this is an allusion to… come on, you got it… that’s right, the weirwood paste. You can live for years on that stuff! Dunk is the tree struck by the falling star, the Odin-esque greenseer. Of course he should eat paste and live for years.
The battle finishes with Dunk reaching up with his fist – just like Gregor at the Oberyn fight – and pulling down the Brightflame dragon into the mud. This rising fist is the “Fist of the First Men” symbol, and represents the rising smoke and ash that blots out the sun. That’s who Brightflame is, the sun – it’s his shield, bearing the three-headed red dragon on black sigil, that represents the moon. Aerion himself is a bright dragon, and thus a solar Azor Ahai figure who turns the moon into his weapon, into his dragons, just as the exploding moon is like the hand or weapon of the sun, which appears to stand behind the moon (remember the moon as a sock puppet animated by the sun analogy). So, Dunk’s rising fist is indeed pulling down the sun, after the moon shield has already fallen to pieces like a rain of morningstar dragons.
Dunk rolls on top of Aerion and thinks, “let him swing his bloody morningstar now,” giving us the bleeding star idea yet again. Just to demonstrate the idea of the moon having its revenge on the sun by darkening its face withe moon meteor smoke, Dunk takes Aerion’s three headed moon dragon shield and proceeds to bash his dragon helm in with it. Again, it’s very like Gregor bashing Oberyn’s solar face in after having fallen to the ground. By the end, “the Bright Prince was as brown as a privy.”
Just to cap things off, Dunk finally has Aerion at his mercy and..
His eyes were purple and full of terror. Dunk had a sudden urge to grab one and pop it like a grape between two steel fingers, but that would not be knightly.
Two Odin makeovers for the price of one, what a bargain. It emphasizes that the falling meteor dragon and the tree it strikes become one, and that sun and moon become one.
A couple of the people fighting on team Dunk are worth noting: Lyonel Baratheon, the laughing storm – a bonafide stag man horned lord storm king. Robin Rhysling, who has one eye missing (seriously, there are more one-eyed people in ASOIAF than you remember). There’s also a version of the summer king / winter king myth that uses a robin and a wren which I don’t have time to explain, but suffice it to say the name Robin can be used as a green man allusion.
The other notable member of Team Dunk was the dead dragon from Daeron’s dream, Baelor Breakspear. He wore the black armor and was the dragon who “fell on Dunk” and died, so he’s a falling moon dragon figure. Baelor took a blow from his brother’s mace, but didn’t die until he removed his helm and part of his skull fell out, a grisly depiction of the moon losing its shell. Right before that, he’s feeling dizzy, and says his fingers “feel like wood,” bringing us full circle back to Dunk’s wooden finger and showing us again that both Dunk the tree man and the dragon that falls on him become one in the same, the burning tree, and thus both can show burning tree symbolism. Dunk sees “red blood and pale bone” on the side of Baelor’s head, a bit of weirwood coloring applied to the dying dragon. As he dies, it says “a queer troubled look passed across Baelor Breakspear’s face, like a cloud passing before a sun,” reinforcing the idea of blotting out the sun by pulling down a dragon. There’s an initially strange-sounding line at the end which might make sense now, and this is right after Baelor starts to fall:
Dunk caught him. “Up,” they say he said, just as he had with Thunder in the melee, “up, up.” But he never remembered that afterward, and the prince did not rise.
In case you needed another clue about the falling dragon being the same as the thunderbolt… there you go. Also implied is the idea of raising fallen Azor Ahai from the dead.
Alright, so the moral of the story is, if you’re a naughty greenseer and you mount the thunder horse tree to pull down the moon, you’re going to set yourself hit on the head with a Morningstar dragon. This kind of gets back to a fundamental question that has been lingering for a while – how exactly does a greenseer pull down a moon? If it didn’t just happen by accident, we need a way for human sorcerers to reach up into the heavens. The idea of the weirwoods as a vehicle for astral projection seems like the beginning of an answer to this vexing question. We’ve seen the weirwoods reaching into the heavens and scratching at the moon, trying to pull it down, and we are being told they are a vehicle to enable your spirit to fly. Is there a connection?